| His birthday was on June 3 and died in September and if he had lived he would have been 110 years old today. Father Marcelline Jayakody was a gifted musician, talented composer, outstanding lyricist, a good writer and above all a down to earth priest.
He hailed from Sandalawaka and his father was a reputed native doctor and an ardent Catholic. His mother was a born Buddhist and converted to Catholicism after marriage.
Father Jayakody attended the village school first and then to Madampe Junior School and ended up at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo.
Quite early in his life he entered the Borella Seminary and became a priest in 1920s. He was the Assistant Parish Priest at Wattala St. Anne’s and from there he was transferred to St. Sebastian’s Church, Kandana again as an Assistant.
He was made the Parish Priest at Duwa in Negombo. At Duwa he became very popular during his two year period as he was the first to start the Duwa Passion Play by using human beings instead of puppets. By this time the play became more natural, realistic and popular. When time went by he used Sinhalese poem for the functions of the church instead of Latin hymns.
He started decorating the church with ‘Gokkola’ and lotus flowers for church functions to which the elderly and westernized priests objected and showed displeasure.
During his young days he was a rebel and without getting the permission of the Archbishop or informing him, Fr Jayakody left to India and joined the famous Shanthiniketan and studied music there for three years and on his return as a punishment after a disciplinary enquiry was held, he was transferred to St. Patrick’s College, Jaffna as a teacher and a parish was not given.
He served there for about 4 years and was brought back to St Peter’s College, Bambalapitiya. This was in 1955.
I met this affable priest for the first time in 1958, when I joined the Police and came on transfer to Kollupitiya. From that day onwards till he died, I moved with him very closely, at least meeting him once a month.
Whilst in conversation once, he told me that he learnt his Tamil on his punishment tour to Jaffna and his best period in musical work and literary affairs, was the time he was a parish priest in Maggona.
There he had composed songs like ‘Malate Vadina Bingu Obei’ and ‘Obai Ape Ratai.’ During this period Fr Jayakody had been specially selected to train a batch of 100 girls to sing ‘Namo Namo Matha’ at the first Independence celebrations held at the Independence Square on February 4, 1948.
In 1956, Fr Jayakody wrote the lyrics for the music of maestro Sunil Santha for the film ‘Rekawa’ produced by Sir Lester James Peries. Those songs are so popular, the Lake House group of papers selected him as the most popular person in the production of the film.
Later he published a book called ‘Mutu’ which was a collection of poems written by him. He was awarded the first prize and won the Magsaysay award for that year.
He was popular with the Buddhist clergy too, and they named him as the Catholic priest of the Buddhist temple. After retirement as a parish priest Fr Jayakody stayed at St Anne’s Church, Pilapitiya, Kelaniya for about 3 years and he had a well kept two rooms, by the Church, located by the river.
Some time later Fr Jayakody came to reside at 228, Havelock Road, Colombo 5. This was a building donated to the Church by a lady known to him.
Here too, he occupied two rooms, one to sleep, the other his study.
The main building was occupied by Rev Fr Joe de Mel and later by Rev Fr Ernest Porutota.
At old age, as a practice Catholic priests are sent to a special place close to St. Joseph’s College, Colombo 10, but he was reluctant to stay as a inactive priest.
I visited him very frequently at his last stages as I was stationed in Colombo. One afternoon he was taken ill and taken to a private hospital in Colombo where he left the earthly domain, went beyond, never to return. Just before he passed away, he gave me a framed photograph of Virgin Mary with Infant Jesus in her arms. I am an ardent practising Buddhist. But in my bed room a miniature electric bulb burns on it through day and night to remember late Fr. Jayakody.